The south fork of the Tuolumne River curves through our camp. At the center there is a deep green swimming hole, ringed with granite boulders, indulgent on the hot, dusty afternoons. At night, from our tent-cabin, we can hear the river rambling down its path, lulling us all. In shade-dappled morning, we play along the river banks, under the dogwood trees. There the water is shallow and swirly and appears lit from within, sparkling with golden flecks of mica. The Tuolumne is pure Sierra snow melt, cold and so clear that we can see minnows darting and trout lounging and the smooth-worn rocks of its bed.
Kyle and I hike upriver one day, just the two of us, to a place known as Small Falls. Huge granite boulders pile along the river bank, and the river’s water tumbles over a series of small spills, splashing into natural swimming pools just deep enough to jump into from the rocks.
The cool water is refreshing after our hike, the granite bottom of the pool smooth and slippery under our feet. We swim, and watch the waterfalls cartwheeling down the river, and look up at the blue sky and the green trees. After we swim we sit on a big flat rock, talking and watching the water and letting our clothes dry. We don’t see or hear another person until we hike back to camp an hour later.
I know I haven’t been to a million rivers, I tell Kyle, but I think this one will always be my favorite.
I planned to take these cookies as our car snack on our way over Highway 120, through the valley and past the orchards and up into the mountains. But we ate them. All. Basically the night they were made. And then it was time to go.
These cookies are interesting to me, because they take what I think of as a cold-weather cookie (the classic oatmeal) and merge it with a summertime favorite (the classic shortbread). The end result is more shortbread than oatmeal, without an oatmeal cookie’s usual spicy warmth and chew. Instead these have a crispness that pairs really (I meal really) well with creamy-sweet ice-cream. But the oatmeal adds a something, a bit of texture and substance. If any of my fellow Bay Area people recall the way an Its-It‘s oatmeal cookies become sort of frozen and fresh, rather than chewy and warm, you have a sense of how this cookie is oatmeal-y, but not.
It makes a wonderful ice cream sandwich. But I can’t tell you if it makes good car snacks. Maybe next year I’ll let you know.
(And yes, just like last year I return from the mountains with my spirit rejuvenated and my mind on cookies and laundry. Like my favorite river, I think this might be one of those things that doesn’t ever change.)
Oatmeal Shortbread Cookies
If you are familiar with Kim Boyce’s Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe (if you’re not, that’s an outrage; try here or here or here) you know that cold butter can be creamed with sugar in a stand mixer, resulting in a dough ready to go straight into the oven with no chilling. That’s the method I use here, but otherwise this is loosely adapted from the basic shortbread cookie in Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio.
These cookies have a large amount of vanilla. You could almost call them oatmeal-vanilla shortbread cookies. We love them like this, but feel free to scale back to one or two teaspoons if you prefer. I like using vanilla bean paste here because it adds little flecks to the shortbread and gives a slightly more complex vanilla flavor without using up a whole vanilla bean, but you could also use vanilla extract or a combo of extract and actual vanilla bean seeds.
1 stick butter, cold, cut into cubes
1 cup white sugar
1 generous tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup oats
1/2 cup raisins
Preheat the oven to 375 F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Cream the butter and the sugar together in your stand mixer, with the paddle attachment, for about two minutes. Add the vanilla bean paste and mix for about one more minute, or until well blended.
Meanwhile, you can mix together the flours, salt, oats, and raisins in a mixing bowl. Once mixed, add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar-vanilla, and mix on low speed until just blended (there might still be a few flour-y dry spots; mix those in gently with a rubber spatula, so as not to overmix the dough.)
Scoop tablespoons of dough onto your baking sheets allowing about an inch between scoops. Bake at 375 for ten minutes, or until edges are golden crisp and centers barely set. (They will firm up and get crispier as they cool.)
This makes about 24 cookies.